La lutte continue …
This strike is now longer than that of ’95, with no end yet in sight. Although Parisian tempers are fraying, public support for the strike remains high, yet the government shows no sign of backing down (even as the president vacations in the south of France and his ecology minister suns herself in Morocco–not a good look in the midst of a general strike). The strikers remain determined, despite substantial loss of income, while the economy at large has suffered a major hit, with substantial damage to retail sales during the holiday season, enormous losses by the SNCF and in the tourist industry, and knock-on losses in other sectors. So what next, as the situation becomes increasingly volatile and dangerous?
The left hopes to salvage itself from this imbroglio. Even Olivier Faure has discovered that the rhetoric of resistance seems more promising at the moment than the rhetoric of reform, and some commentators envision a “Mélenchonization” of the PS. But the declaration that emerged from the “Union de la Gauche” meeting organized in Saint-Denis at the behest of the PCF(!) was weak tea:
Elle suggère d’« améliorer le système de retraite solidaire par répartition sans pour autant augmenter l’âge de départ en retraite ou allonger la durée de cotisation », en évoquant vaguement un élargissement de l’assiette de financement. Un contre-projet en bonne et due forme attendra.
Decoded, this statement appears to acknowledge the need for reform–here rebranded amélioration du système–to be achieved without altering the status quo in any meaningful way. On the other hand, one might read a ray of hope in this formulation, given that it talks only about standing firm on the retirement age and required duration of contributions while carefully avoiding the move to a point system and the reform of the special regimes. So would the left be prepared to compromise on this if the government drops the âge pivot?
If so, Macron might be prepared to make a dramatic move by, for example, seizing on the occasion of the annual New Year’s wish speech from the Elysée to announce a tactical retreat. We know his fondness for the dramatic gesture from on high as a means of defusing an explosive situation. Perhaps he can once again pull a rabbit out of a hat.
But will the magic work if he tries it? Perhaps not. My sense is that the striking workers, far more than the party leaders of the left or the union leadership, have begun to smell blood. The change in tactics from repeated, isolated strikes, which did not work, to continuous but rolling strikes, keeping the country paralyzed but alleviating lost wages by allowing partial returns to work, seems to be working. Of course, if the president makes a gesture, public sympathy, which remains with the strikers for now, could shift quickly.
Of course, social movements have a way of becoming intoxicated on their own rhetorical distillations, and the verbal escalation of this movement from banal strike to existential Armageddon pitting the Resistance (harking back all the way to the postwar CNR) against the Evil Empire of Neoliberalism seeking to rob the People of their Acquis Sociaux has gotten a bit out of hand, even in the comments to some of my previous posts. We shall see. If the movement continues until the scheduled rally on Jan. 9, it could be re-galvanized by its sheer longevity. That is why I think Macron will do something to head off that rendezvous and try to turn things in a different, more productive direction. But I could be wrong. He hasn’t proved very adroit thus far, and my expectations may be unduly optimistic. His reserves of support in the country are dwindling, and if he lets things come to a head, there will be no counter-movement to rescue him comparable to the one that rescued de Gaulle in 1968. It will be the end of the Macron presidency a full two years ahead of the final burial, après quoi le déluge.
Photo Credit: Becagraphy, Greve, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.